CHICAGO (CBS) – Opioid overdoses are up 60 percent and all too often the source of those drugs are doctors, some using their medical license as a license to deal.
They can be a lifesaver for patients suffering great pain and a killer for people who become addicted to them like a woman we will call “Mary.”
She contacted CBS2 investigator Pam Zekman wanting to tell her story so others might learn from her mistakes.
She asked that we conceal her identity to protect her privacy.
“For seven years not only did those painkillers numb my physical being they hijacked my brain and I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t process, I couldn’t get better,” Mary said.
She says opioid painkillers along with a mixture of drugs for seizures, anxiety, and a muscle relaxant were all prescribed to her by a Dr. Syed Akhter.
She says Dr. Akhter would prescribe up to 90 pills at a time which he sold from his office for $1 a pill.
Mary’s go-to combination was Soma, Klonopin and Tramadol.
“It’s called the holy trinity of drugs and these are drugs like hydrocodone, opiates, like hydrocodone, benzodiazepines like Xanax and muscle relaxers like Soma,” said Daniel Gillen, Chief of the drug diversion unit for the D.E.A. “Combined these can cause a heroin like high and can be extremely deadly when taken together'”
“I almost lost my life and if it can happen to me it can happen to anybody,” said Mary.
During one visit to the doctor’s office she said she took some of the pills he had just prescribed while waiting for another
patient to finish her appointment with the doctor. Then, she said, they walked down the street to a nearby restaurant where she collapsed from an overdose. Emergency room records confirmed the overdose.
It’s a problem addiction specialists are all too familiar with.
“More people are dying of opioid overdoses than cancer, its passed car accidents so its about as dire a consequence as there can be,” said Kathryn Perticone, APN of Rush University Medical Center.
When asked if doctors are contributing to this problem, Daniel Gillen of the D.E.A. said, “It’s definitely one of the major components of it.”
“We bring federal, state charges. At that point we look at them as a drug dealer with a lab coat.”
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (DPR) has disciplined more than a hundred doctors in the last three years for issues involving the writing of prescriptions. Disciplinary action has ranged from reprimands to revocations of their medical license..
And now Dr. Akhter faces possible disciplinary action for “inappropriately prescribing multiple controlled substances“,according to a complaint filed by DPR. That complaint alleges that Dr. Akhter prescribed medications to another patient without confirming her pain complaints.
The 2 Investigators tried to ask Dr. Akhter about these allegations after a recent disciplinary hearing, but he had no comment.
What finally made Mary stop?
“I didn’t want to be that person anymore,” Mary said. “These poison pills can take a beautiful person and turn them into a monster.”
She hopes her story will be a warning to others.
“Just because a doctor is prescribing does not mean its okay and safe.”
During his licensing hearing Dr. Akhter said he treated the patient in the state case appropriately for pain and anxiety based on his personal observations. He said if he felt she was addicted he would have weaned her off the drugs. He declined to talk about the woman interviewed for this report citing HIPAA issues.